Re: Symbol

Symbols must change or perish. I worked in elementary school education, an institution remarkably slow to change. In policy and practise, the methodology of teaching has not changed significantly either. From slate to iPad our technology has advanced but the symbolism of students being given information by teachers is still with us.

Our country’s flag is a symbol. I can remember when the Red Ensign flew in the school yards of my youth. In the classroom it hung beside a picture of Queen Elizabeth, symbolic of her reign over us all. In 1965, when our flag became the familiar red maple leaf it symbolized our emergence as an independent nation; even though Governors General still symbolically stand in for Her Majesty in our government. My country’s flag currently is misrepresented to promote Freedom by truck driving convoy members bent on overthrowing parliament.

As I watched the visit of Prince William and his wife Kate to various Caribbean Islands, I grieved for our inability to create new symbols of service instead of perpetuating signs of servitude. A member of England’s royalty providing blessings is old news that holds us back from the challenges of working together. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDCQUPEiqmA

Statues of once revered politicians and conquerors are being torn down throughout the world in what might be described as a mass awakening to the lack of relevant symbolism. A common wealth of nations is what the United Nations was set up to accomplish without irrelevant figureheads.

Around the world Wealth has become symbolic of power. Those who have fortunes are allowed to judge those who don’t. Television programs Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank ask participants to come before a court of Oligarchs to plead their case. Billionaires like Elon Musk are permitted to manipulate entire industries with their fearsome purchasing might. Few societies, past or present, have been successful in limiting the power of the wealthy. I live in a province where First Nation potlatches were once banned by governing white colonists because they couldn’t understand the symbolism behind a ceremony where the rich gave away their possessions. 

For something to be symbolic it must have a strong link to Value. Corporations try to sell their products as symbols of something we care about. If the company logo can be imprinted on our collective psyche then it’s easy for us not to question how the plastic wrapped item got into our hands or homes. Watch closely the next time a commercial interrupts your baseball game. The ads are all about symbolism, not about the substance of what is being offered for sale. Gambling (particularly on-line sports betting) is being strongly promoted as a citizen’s right. The dollar sign is a dominant symbol in our capitalistic world.

I’ll join others who are sounding their cymbals in the world symphony of warning. An awareness of the role symbolism plays in our lives is critical. To my ears the music of money is not sustainable. The cries of those suffering are falling on deaf ears.

Re: Bank

Where I spent my formative years there was a small river that wound its way to Lake Ontario. Its banks were muddy, with tangled roots grasping for water. I hid plastic toy soldiers amongst these fibrous tendrils, lit small red firecrackers to imitate war. It felt safe here, with my back against the wall of cool earth, watching the creek water smoothly trickle past my feet.

I have Scottish ancestry so I feel a yearning kinship while humming the lilt from ’On the Bonnie, Banks of Loch Lomond’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb8AGuD2uOI

One of my favourite television shows from that time was the hypnotic black and white classic, ’Tales of the River Bank’. The creators seemed to imagine exactly what was on my mind as I used small toys to create a miniature world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VTn6VlUXNA

I took to television with an eye for more than entertainment, like many in a previous generation had immersed themselves in books. While I did find comfort and escape in reading my mind quickly awoke to world issues. I chose stories that spoke of adventuring to different lands on the open sea. I could bank on authors like Farley Mowat to set a pleasing compass course by spinning tales of non or near fiction. His stories of man and nature contrived to inspire and are so relevant to today’s angst over the decline of Earth’s natural resources. In early adulthood, I wept through parts of ‘A Whale for a Killing’ and later gasped at the abundance that once was found off The Grand Banks off Newfoundland in ‘Sea of Slaughter’. In high school my Student Aptitude Test results indicated I was destined to be either a Banker or a Lighthouse Keeper. Hardly occupations for my adventurous spirit! When my mom found out I clearly remember her show of disappointment while my father made a joke of it by saying, “I wouldn’t bank on it son.”

In the northern Ontario town where I spent my career my neighbourhood bank had a history dating back to Gold Rush days. When I first strode in to open an account I was awed by how much it reminded me of the banks depicted in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Lots of wood, brass and a mammoth safe standing sentinel in a corner. It’s hard to believe that this was in the late nineteen seventies! Two tellers sat behind antique looking arched frames with vertical bars. There was a small safety deposit box room at the very back but the only other room was one accessed by a heavy oak door on which was carved the manager’s name.

I enjoyed having my bank book stamped and updated while chatting with the tellers. When a new bank branch of chrome and glass was built into a modern mall nearby, some new fangled ATMs were installed. My sons taught me how to use them. It took time for me to feel safe along the walls of this bank.

Re: Treasure

I think of the word Treasure in an emotional fashion like Adventure. I can imagine going on a voyage and discovering, at the end of my quest, a treasure most spectacular: That’s the little boy inside me, treasuring a moment of imagination. I want to believe anything is possible. And treats are like treasure. Like pirate’s booty, often buried for later.

Financially speaking, my parents were lower class. When holidays or birthdays came around there was always a feeling of stress in the house. Once my folks actually told us not to expect anything under the tree that Christmas. I learned to treasure what I had. Sometimes our parents surprised us with treats, gifted just because they had extra money that week. I remember treasuring a chemistry set presented this way, right out of the blue, like magic. Much later I remember a trip to Canadian Tire with my dad. I was looking for a single drill bit for a project I was working on. He bought me a deluxe set which I still treasure as much as any legacy he may have left.

I follow a fellow on Twitter who has made it his mission to reduce litter in his neighbourhood. He posts photos of the haul from the walk around his block. On one excursion he picked up a plastic lid that may be one of the first Tupperware toppers. Someone’s garbage is another man’s treasure is a phrase that comes to mind. He finds value in his personal project and the community sometimes joins him in this unselfish voluntary labour. My Nanna would have called  this good citizen, David Boudinot, a treasure.

Some people rise to the status of ‘National Treasure’: Sort of like a popularity contest yet hopefully due to merit. Cirque du Soleil once had that label in Canada. Other groups and people of note have been recognized as being treasured by their fellow citizens. Not to be confused with a National Treasury, which is a place where gold used to be stored as a country’s monetary standard. The success of a country was often measured by wealth of this nature. I often wonder if some countries with fewer ‘material things’ feel impoverished. Or do they have another measure of treasures that would teach me something I don’t know about value.

As a retired person with a successful career behind me, I am treasuring the fruits of my labour. Financially I’ve been luckier than my parents. My eldest son and I got into a deep dialogue around the topic of success and how it is measured. I still treasure the moments I had with him as father to son and now I place great value on our adult friendship. His generation has not had the easiest road to career style employment as my generation. In my eyes he has succeeded, regardless, in finding treasures along the way.

When I downsized I gave away many things I once thought were treasures. Now I look to time as a treasured gift to spend freely.

Re: Awe

“Awesome!” and “Far Out!” are sounds that tumble out of my mouth whenever I’m amazed at what I’m experiencing. With these exclamations I’m not passing judgement on the surprising subject matter, I’m just feeling joy in the wonder of the moment. Just as the character Spock from the old television series Star Trek says, “Interesting” or “Fascinating” he too is expressing curiosity. My Awesome is just a big fat Wow regarding the mystery of life as I experience it. The singer/songwriter John Denver clearly understood how to express delight in the world around him. I feel to show enthusiasm is to embrace life and all its observable mysteries.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-OhYLVSGj0

My only social media account is Twitter. Recently I had my first experience with a post getting a lot of attention. People took issue with me using the word awesome to describe a short video that made my head metaphorically explode. It was a shipping container that housed fans and wires and a computer-looking array. Since it had no narration, I retweeted asking for an explanation of what I was seeing. Thousands of responses later the world seemed to think my awesome choice of words was either evil or masterful. I sincerely wasn’t choosing sides on the Blockchain/Bitcoin/NFT debate, only expressing a sense of wonder. Oh well.

Language is full of pitfalls. The word Awful carries a negative connotation even though it literally means, ‘full of awe’. I’ve been reading about philosophers lately and have discovered that a common connection with all the theories is that the world, and the humans who inhabit it, are pretty awesome. Each writer is filled with awe when it comes to his/her philosophy of life. I wondered if I would come across someone who had a philosophy of awesomeness. In the feature length cartoon ‘The Lego Movie’, there is an inspiring song ‘Everything is Awesome’ which captured the enthusiasm I had in mind. It’s obviously written for youngsters but I’m a kid at heart.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StTqXEQ2l-Y

If I understand Phenomenology correctly, it is our experience that defines the meaning of life. Martin Heidegger and other bright minds began a discussion of this idea of how phenomena interact with the consciousness. Detractors suggest Phenomenology might be dangerous because it lacks focus. Psh-Posh! Perhaps this minor philosophical movement can be restarted with my humble input. First, I humbly suggest a name change: Let’s try, Awelogy: The Philosophy of Wonder.

I’m working on some initial precepts: *When you greet the morning after your first breath of consciousness, be grateful. *Put aside your preconceptions when experiencing things. *Observe and allow yourself to be awestruck *Reserve judgement *Share your wonder with others *Resist sarcasm or mockery

These are nascent thoughts but I am in earnest. I plan to discuss this notion of Awelogy whenever I get the chance to slip it into conversation. Maybe one day one of my grandchildren may smile over my efforts and say in amazement, “Oh grandad!”

Re: Money

Money makes the world go around. It seems true when we see almost everything being monetized. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIAXG_QcQNU
We rate things on a monetary scale like never before: weekend movie box office receipts, visual art auction prices, team players’ salaries, a country’s GDP. It seems we trust a number over thorough critical analysis. Money speaks louder than words while we value stuff less.

When we put a price on everything it can be easy to lose a sense of its inherent value. Do we act in the world only to get payed? Are we driven only by the question, “What’s in it for me?” This monetization of the world is troubling. There are so many examples of public domains being swept aside for private interest. Water is a prime example. Corporations have found ways to monetize an essential element to all life on earth. Our lakes and rivers are being drained of this public resource so that it can be bottled (in plastic no less) and sold at a huge profit. We have been conned into buying something that falls free from the sky and, in most of Canada, runs free and safe from a tap. In this context the idea that air can be sold is possible. https://www.theguardian.com/global/2018/jan/21/fresh-air-for-sale

My grandparents used to use the phrase, ‘Almighty Dollar’ as a way to mock those who held their money too tightly. For them, money was ‘the root of all evil’ or at the very least, ‘not to be squandered’. I was taught that ‘money isn’t everything’ and to ‘spend it wisely’. Now we have wide social acceptance for those who have ‘made it big’ and moved on up ‘to that deluxe apartment in the sky’. We envy them. We blame them. We resent the 1% for their riches while we feel empty. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYcqToQzzGY

Our television culture mirrors our desire to strike it rich one day, usually through celebrity or luck but not necessarily effort. Children, when asked what they want to be when they grow up answer; a rock star, a sports star or owner of a start-up. Lest we forget Donald Trump was elected in the U.S.A. as a model of the value we currently place on financial success.

Money is seen as the end rather than the means. Worth has dollar signs rather than value. The word value is now translated as money or price rather than quality. Digital business owners are driven with a desire to find ways to monetize information. Computer application developers are searching for ways to make their ideas yield profit. The measure of a suitor’s love is still often equated by the carat size of the engagement ring. Marketers spend big bucks making us believe we must have an item. Don’t be fooled.

I’ll continue to trust that love or simple kindness can’t be bought or sold.

Re: Shop

“Shop til ya drop” is an overused phrase that makes me cringe.
I’m not a companion to take shopping, as my patience limit is under thirty minutes. The Beer Store in Ontario used to have large signs in the parking lot that encapsulated the way I have always tackled going to any store: IN and OUT.

In high school I enjoyed going to shop class where I would learn how to make things with my own hands. Going FOR a shop was not something I considered, unless it was a mad dash to get presents for my parents the day before Christmas. My first experience with the word Shop was likely read as a noun from an English child’s picture book. The accompanying colourful drawing of a quaint British store looked nothing like today’s corporate, commercial, ‘delivered right to your door’ enterprise.

I went to IKEA for the first time recently. I was happy I had a guide. Previous to this spontaneous visit my only notions of this highly successful business were through highway sightings of giant blue&yellow buildings or frantic ads like “Start the Car” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlWCLw75XnE .

With my close friend nearby and the lighted arrows up ahead providing some reassurance, I entered the chosen monolithic structure. I relaxed a tad, knowing I wouldn’t get lost or swallowed up by thoughts of someone forcing me to buy something. Everyone, it quickly appeared to me, knew the deal. They calmly measured items, tested paint swatches, lounged in carefully configured rooms. I saw some children running around in small packs. Other kids played video games on phones while their elders pushed them in giant carts. Some young adults held hands and giggled over some of the merchandise. Other pairs were more serious as they appeared to weigh options for their home or apartment. Several women were so close to giving birth I wondered if there were medical staff on site, for just such an eventuality. To my eyes it was a herding community of hunter/gatherers, on the move for bargains for sure, but also, looking for a sense of belonging.

Several signs, large and small, supported shoppers with these dual quests: Near the Bistro, “Why we ask you to clear the table.” Near the cash out, “Sometimes you just want to pick it up.” I only saw a few employees but I expected there were hundreds busy working in what amounted to a small city. My loudly muttered comment that the restaurant line-up was too long, was overheard by a cashier who called to me reassuringly, “No it isn’t sir.”
There was order, uniformity and connectivity in this place. If you had the correct product code you could find your item, eventually, predictably and feel the satisfaction of having done it yourself. Out in the parking lot, cars, SUVs and small trucks were loaded for the trip home. All shoppers had a look of fulfillment, not exhaustion, on their faces.

I thought to myself, what would Darwin think of this place: IKEA, the idea.